Iran: An Accident Shrouded in Mystery

By Roger Ricardo Luis on June 7, 2024

the helicopter crash site, photo: Avatar

The death on Sunday, May 19, of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, when the helicopter in which he was traveling crashed in a mountainous area of the Persian country, has led to the emergence of several hypotheses about the causes of the event.

After leaving the inauguration of two dams in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan, the president and six aides, including his foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, took the aircraft to the city of Tabirz, located north of the Sahand mountain range, 1,400 meters above sea level.

Bad weather conditions along a section of the route followed by the three aircraft in the presidential convoy are said to support the first of the arguments about the catastrophe.

The thick fog and the storm coming from the northwest of Iran probably made the pilot’s flight difficult and could have contributed to the accident.

In addition, the area of the accident is very wooded and with steep mountains made invisible by the storm. This situation complicated the rescue efforts, international news agencies also reported in their first news dispatches.

The second version of the accident is centered on the helicopter that the president was traveling in: a Bell 212, of American manufacture, whose initial version dates back to the Vietnam War.

Experts said that the aircraft, more than forty years old and without proper modernization, was built to fly in visual flight conditions; therefore, the pilot had to rely solely on his ability to observe the terrain from his seat. In other words, the aircraft was virtually inoperable at night or in low visibility conditions.

The notorious old age of the presidential helicopter, lacking the most modern technologies in terms of navigation, communications and security, among other features, gives much food for thought. The custody services of one of the most endangered political personalities in the world today will be held accountable for this.

In addition to possible technical and meteorological problems, the version that the Iranian leader’s accident could be the result of sabotage is being studied, according to Gholam Hosein Esmaili, chief of staff of the late Raisi.

The weather conditions at the time of the helicopter crash were nothing to worry about, Esmaili said, the Russian news agency Sputnik reported. “The weather was clear, there were no weather conditions to worry about. After half an hour of being in the air, there was a small patch of clouds,” the senior official told the official Iranian news agency IRNA.

The convoy included three helicopters, two of which reached their destination, said the official, who was aboard one of the two survivors. Asked if there was fog, he replied, “Not at all. Just over the ground.

Long-standing conflict

The Islamic Republic of Iran came into being following the overthrow of the monarchical government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahleví (a strategic ally of the United States and Britain in the region) by the Iranian Revolution on February 11, 1979.

The Persian nation is the eighth largest country in the world. Its capital is Tehran with more than 14 million inhabitants. The country is located in Central Asia, in the Persian Gulf area, has a population of 88 million inhabitants, the subsoil holds a great oil wealth and is considered an emerging world power member of the BRICS, with strong ties to China and Russia.

It is bordered to the north by Russia, the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan; to the south by the Persian Gulf; to the west by Iraq and Turkey; and to the east by Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Home to a millenary culture dating back to the Persian Empire, the country has since time immemorial become one of the most important geostrategic zones on the planet.

In the power structure, President Ebrahim Raisi (as of August 5, 2021) was the second most important person in the country, after Ayatollah Ali Hoseini Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader since 1989.

Raisi, who was born on December 14, 1960, held several positions in Iran’s judiciary, as attorney general between 2014 and 2016, vice president of the Supreme Court between 2004 and 2016 and chief justice between 2019 and 2021. He was also a member of the Assembly of Experts since 2007.

Considered a “hardliner, he was prosecutor and deputy prosecutor of Tehran during the 1980s and 1990s. During that period, the death toll on the opposition side was in the order of 5,000 as a result of arrests, Amnesty International said.

Triangle of fire: United States – Iran – Israel

President Raisi’s death comes in the midst of a highly explosive regional situation given, mainly, by the Israeli genocide in Gaza against Palestine with which Iran has close relations.

But US-Israeli-Iranian relations form a long-standing triangle of fire.

In 2002, the revelation of Iranian nuclear activity introduced a sign of concern in the international community, given the ever explosive situation prevailing in the Middle East. Since then, the United States has used the issue to increase its hostility towards Iran, apply unilateral sanctions and push for action in international organizations.

In this regard, “Washington does not rule out the use of force to stop Iran’s nuclear program,” said President Joe Biden during his visit to Israel on July 14, 2022.

The moments of tension also include the assassination in Iraq of Iranian General Qassen Soleimani, in January 2020, by a high-precision U.S. military blitzkrieg operation. The Iranian military officer was considered a hero in life and the US accused him of the death of “hundreds” of its citizens. The Iranian response was not long in coming with a missile attack on two US bases in Iraq with few results.

Another source of great tension erupted with the Israeli bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1st. Thirteen people were killed there, among them General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who headed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016, whose detachments are specialized in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operating outside Iranian borders.

A few days later, in response, Tehran launched 300 drones and missiles against a military base in Israel, repulsed with Iron Dome, its missile defense system, and the support of allied countries such as the US, UK and Jordan, international media reported.

Nevertheless, the operation was described as successful and “in exercise of the right of self-defense demonstrating Iran’s responsible approach to regional and international peace and security,” said then Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdoulahian.

Then, on April 19, Israel launched a “limited strike” against military targets in the Iranian province of Isfahan. This is the site of a large air base, an important drone and missile production complex, as well as several sites of the Iranian nuclear program, including the Natanz plant, where uranium enrichment is carried out.

Regarding this aggression, the Persian authorities did not report any casualties or major damage. Analysts consider the action as a “warning” to avoid an escalation of the conflict between the two countries and the very serious consequences it could entail.

Just around the corner is the fourteenth presidential election in the Islamic Republic, which will be anticipated for next Friday, June 28, after the death of President Ebrahim Raisi.

Now it remains to be seen what will happen in this new context under a climate impacted by the suspicious death of the president, the tensions between the government and the internal opposition, and the unpredictable turn that the irreconcilable relations between Tehran, Washington and Tel Aviv could take.

Roger Ricardo Luis is a Professor of the Faculty of Communication at the University of Havana. Head of the Discipline of Print Journalism and Agencies and twice winner of the José Martí Latin American Journalism Award.

Source: Cubaperiodistas, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English